OP-ED | Campaigns Ignore Climate Change At Our Peril
There’s a big storm on the way, but unlike the impending Hurricane Sandy, nobody’s talking about it. If you watched the presidential debates or have followed campaigns at all this season, you’ve likely noticed that climate change hasn’t really come up at all. This is unfortunate, and dangerous.
The environment and climate in general hasn’t been mentioned much on the campaign trail this election season, as an article in Friday’s New York Times mentions. Apparently it’s just not a big enough issue for voters to care about.
It’s ironic that I’d write that sentence close to the anniversary of the ice storm that plunged my neighborhood and town into nine days of freezing darkness, and just before another major storm heads our way. We’re not talking about the weather in the campaign, but we should be.
On any poll asking voters to list their top issues in the election, the environment, climate change, or even disaster response don’t even appear on our national radar. Who can blame us? After all, the economy is still sputtering, health care is still horrible, and we’re still entangled in foreign wars and upheavals. Why should we care about the environment?
I could give you the depressing data about astonishingly rapid Arctic sea ice melt, and reference data that shows the planet warming. I could quote the legion of scientists begging for us to hear their dire predictions for what will happen if we don’t act. You’ve heard all of this before, though. The thing is, even if you don’t believe in climate change, you will in a decade or so. This isn’t alarmism or lonely environmental fringe thinking; climate change is real, it’s here, and we’ll have to deal with it sooner or later.
There’s plenty of reasons why we should act on the environment, and they start here at home. We’ve always had hurricanes and other severe weather, but as climate change accelerates we’ll start seeing this sort of thing much more. A NASA scientist recently linked instances of extreme weather to climate change, and we shouldn’t expect to be exempt from that. A tornado hit Springfield a year ago, and another hit Bridgeport not long before that. We had a debilitating hurricane and a freak winter storm all in the same year. The year before that we were buried so deep in snow that we learned all about ice dams and went to bed listening to our roofs creak ominously under all that weight. My deck sank about a foot because of the weight of the snow on it. At some point, the parade of weather disasters stops looking like random chance, and starts looking more like a pattern.
Since climate change will lead to more weather emergencies, we need to both address the environmental damage and ensure our government and utilities are ready to handle whatever nature has in store. We were critically unprepared for last year’s storms, and although CL&P insists they’ve learned from their mistakes, I’d hate to see us blindsided again. Campaigns should be talking about this. I want campaigns to tell us how they plan to cut greenhouse emissions, invest in green technology, and repair some of the damage already done. But I especially want to know what the government will do to make sure people stay safe and that the lights and heat stay on in extreme weather events. These are two sides of the same coin, and we should be hearing about them.
It’s troubling to me that these conversations aren’t happening at all. Voters deserve common sense and action on climate change, and they deserve to hear candidates speak about how we can best prepare ourselves. Even if you’re one of the shrinking minority who think global warming is a hoax and climate change is some odd liberal fantasy, cleaner air, better storm preparation and energy independence just make sense. Candidates at every level should be telling voters how they plan to achieve those sensible goals. It’s one of the many failings of our news media and our culture that on this vital topic there’s nothing but a very obvious and ominous silence.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.